Despite of our city's dispiriting 2am closing hour, which snuffs the club music experience way too early, Boston is home to a great many house music and techno DJs of note. WILL MONTONE is one such. Like many, he was a fan first; he even worked at Boston's beloved Boston Beat Record Store. He's also a track maker. His top-ten downloads at Beatport include two of the biggest dance music successes of last year, "Dem Mai Hoes" and "Fiona," as well as several other tracks -- "Downtown," "Money," and "Sunshine & Rain" -- that put the dark-hour purr of house music into techno's bluesy stomp. All of these -- and many of Monotone's grabs from other, similarly dark-noted track makers -- did their thing in his almost two-hour set Friday night at Bijou, a set as deliciously toned and bottom-octaved as any techno-based set this writer has ever seen a Boston DJ drop.
Monotone insists that his sound cannot be mere techno, that to express his vision it has to feature the sentimental heart of house music as well. Yet techno is its strong first impression. At Bijou, blared through the big speakers, the techno in his sound utterly dominated. His naked groove moved straight ahead, mostly, big feet and dry shoulders. There was reverb and rumble in it, a strut and pounding, a funky twist rhythm -- all the verve and muscle that the low frequencies of a sound system can muster. Yet as his set developed, there was more to it than noise aligned. There was a soft strain it. A kind of purr.
There were drum rolls atop the techno and scatter-shot synth licks, and these moved to a marching band rhythm -- the sound, almost, of classic Dixieland. Just as Dixieland jazz celebrated life's victory over death (its rhythms were those of funeral marches), so Monotone's drum rolls and traipsing synth licks rose above his ominous bottoms like laughter; like rescue.
Eventually, talk -- the mouth of house music -- tramped upon his reverb and rumble. By now the Bijou audience was dancing -- Monotone, too -- even though the room wasn't very full. (This writer has never seen Bijou on a Friday less than half full. Monotone deserved better.) The groove was evolving, Monotone complicating his rhythm, making it pound louder and lower down, as the talk became screams and the screams became drastic abstractions -- Monotone using the mixboard's distortion switches. He used a PC program too, working four channels of sound to put talk, abstractions, and song in orbit high above the strut and booms on bottom.
There was purpose in his music, for those who cared to hear it. When Monotone dropped the Peter Gelderblom mix of Noir's "It's All About House," there should have been no denying its gospel of house, the soulful preach gritty soprano -- intoxicated, slurring words -- proclaiming freedom, pride, and spirits, with a beat to match one's lips and toes. Fifteen years ago such a declaration would have been hailed by every dancer personally; brains, loins, and heart: it was who they were. These days, in the techno setting, with its snarly obviousness, with its flavors for a flavor's sake, one doubts the Bijou audience attributed any kind of personal struggle to what they were hearing. It didn't seem so. The beat stopped, the dancers stopped; got their coats, and out into the dark delicious night they went, on to the next tapas treat in their feast of the good life.
Opening for Monotone was Boston-based Ju Lee, whose work in a progressive-house mode impressed this writer at last summer's dance music boat cruise. Ju Lee's set began strongly, in a tasty Brazilian beat, and ended strongly in melodic techno (Ame's iconic "Rej" track). It was, though, a set somehow reticent and, in its middle, less than focused. I would have liked to see Ju Lee play more forcefully -- with some ego! -- working one groove mercilessly, as she most definitely knows how.